Well, it finally happened! The cookbook is out on Amazon, and since this whole process has been pretty intense for me I thought I would walk you through the steps. Please keep in mind I have absolutely no idea what I am doing here, and I am absolutely sure there are better ways to self-publish a book, but this was the path I went on. So let me step back a little.
I have always wanted to write a book. Over the years I have kept a notebook full of ideas, some more developed than others, but never had the time to go much further than a broad outline. The ideas were always fictional books in the fantasy/sci-fi genre though, because those are the types of books I like to read. Completely separate from that, when we first started camping in 2013 I had this idea that I would cook the bulk of our meals over a campfire. Because I didn’t have many campfire recipes I started collecting them almost immediately and added them to the early posts in the blog. Really the main reason I added them was because I didn’t want to forget them, plus I thought it was a cool way to fill out a blog post and provide a little value to people. Truly nothing more than that, but it is kind of interesting that the very first recipe I put in a post, made it into the book.
Once we became full timers I quickly realized that campfire cooking was really not that practical, but not all of my standard recipes worked in the RV. Lack of room for ingredients and minimal space for prep really made it challenging. Plus the propane oven cooked very unevenly and there was definitely a learning curve. So I started collecting recipes that worked, and again I started putting them in the blog. I have a pretty battered hand written recipe book that I had been using for years and brought with me, but I liked the idea of having them online so I could access them via my iPad. I also started gathering recipes from friends. We spent lots of time with other couples in Year 1 and sometimes you just have to get a person’s recipe. There was quite a bit of that.
As my collection of recipes started to grow, and I started having fun in the kitchen again, I started thinking about putting the collection together formally. I’ve thought long and hard about the appropriate way (if any) to monetize this site, and I always felt it would be best if I offered something that had intrinsic value. I still think the best example of this is the RV-Dreams Budget spreadsheets. I purchased them when we were early in our research phase, used them religiously, and they provided me value. We still use those spreadsheets to this day. So I could support them and have something of value. That made sense to me. The problem was I couldn’t figure out anything that I could actually offer. But with these recipes, well, I really started to feel like I might have something. Plus since I knew I wanted to publish a book at some point, I thought this might be a way to get my feet wet, so to speak.
When we were in Alaska and business got very slow towards the end of the season I took the time to do some research. I’ll be honest, I didn’t do nearly enough research, but since I was looking specifically for a recipe book template, my choices were somewhat limited. Formatting a recipe book is not easy, and there were very few templates that I liked, but finally I found a good one in a program called Bookwright. This free tool was associated with a book publishing company called Blurb and although I didn’t do nearly enough research I did do enough to find out that for a one-time fee of $9.99 you could use the tool and get an electronic copy in a tablet friendly format. Sold!
I then spent whatever free time I could over the next several months getting my existing recipes into the new format. I had to learn the software. I had to figure out where to place everything, and most importantly I had to decide on categories. I knew early on that I wanted categories that were somewhat RV specific so I ended up with Happy Hour, Pot Luck Dishes, Travel Days, Pressure Cooker, Dinners for Two, Side Dishes, Regional Specialties, and Desserts. Then I had to take my existing recipes and put them in the best suited category. Once that was done I had to fill in the gaps. I decided that I wanted 10 recipes per category. I know that’s somewhat arbitrary, but I like round numbers and it was important to me each section was even. But that meant I had to finish out each section. All of this took several months, mainly because we were very busy at the Beet Harvest and Christmas Trees, but when I could I tried new recipes to fill in the gaps. Progress was slow though, because most of the recipes I tried just weren’t good enough, but I was picking away at it and then finally we started gate guarding.
Lee and I settled on a work schedule to ensure that I would be able to make dinners, and I made a big push to finish up. Every night was a new meal and Lee was really a trooper, although occasionally he did want to eat something that we knew would work. Don’t get me wrong, very few of the recipes we tested were inedible, but many of them were simply mediocre, and even though I was close to the finish line, I just didn’t want to cut corners. Finally I was down to needing one solid stir fry recipe, and after three attempts we judged it good enough. I am actually making one of those versions in the cover photo. Oh, and that was the other thing. I needed a good picture for every recipe and didn’t have a good one for many of the older recipes. So I remade meals and took better pictures and then asked Lee to take the cover photo. I knew what I was looking for in my mind, but explaining that to Lee was a bit tough and we were both a bit cranky that day. So I was pleasantly surprised when I liked one the pictures and decided on the spot to use it. I am not what I consider photogenic, but Lee got a nice one of me laughing at something he said, and most importantly it was a real picture, of a real person, cooking in their real RV. Done!
The book was finally made, and now came the editing. Let me just say I have a tremendous amount of respect for professional copy editors after that experience. The formatting had to be adjusted, spell checking, grammar checking, and every time I reviewed it I found something else. Lee looked at it, I sent it to people who had contributed recipes to get their feedback, and we looked at it again. The problem is the mind tricks you. You see what you want to see, and when I discovered that several of the recipes steps were numbered incorrectly and despite numerous reviews neither one of us had caught the mistake I almost threw up my hands at the whole process. Still we had come that far, so we kept plugging away, and finally we had to say “It’s good enough”. If you ever do this, let me warn you. You can rewrite and rewrite and never stop, but eventually you just have to take a deep breath and go with it.
Once I made that decision (which was difficult enough) it was time to publish. I had to go back and read the instructions provided by Blurb and this is where things got interesting. Blurb is a good company, but their bread and butter is printed books. They provide eBooks, but since they don’t make anything off of them it seems to be a bit of an after thought. The instructions for getting your printed books for sale are extremely detailed, but eBooks, not so much. They do provide a pretty easy way to submit the file to Apple iBooks, but with Amazon you get the files and are pretty much on your own. Before I could get to that step I had to upload the book though. It took me forever to figure out that there is no way to review once it is uploaded unless you make the $9.99 purchase, so I did that and discovered there was a problem with my Table of Contents page. All the other pages looked fine, but the Table of Contents formatting was all messed up. So I called their help line on Monday, and talked to this really nice person, who turned out to be a full time RVer! It turns out you can’t review before paying, so she made some recommendations for adjustments to format, issued me a refund, and then gave me a code to upload another version for free. I did that and it was still wrong, but then I tried something else and the third time (which I paid for) it finally it worked. Awesome!
Once you upload and pay you are given two types of electronic files. The “.mobi” is for iPads and I was able to download and open it in my iPad. That was a really cool moment. The “epub” version though I couldn’t find a way to open with my Kindle app. None of these challenges were made easier by the fact that I was a complete nervous wreck the whole time. At this point I had quite a bit emotionally invested in the process and my concerns that it wasn’t good enough were exacerbated by the technical challenges. I had to keep taking lots of deep breaths, walking away from it, and Lee talked me down from the ledge several times. Which is a shame, because all those nerves really cut into the joy of the accomplishment. Still, I wasn’t that surprised. I am terrible at doing things for the first time, and almost always anxious when I am outside of my comfort zone, so I kept reminding myself one of the reasons for doing this was to work through those feelings.
Please understand, I am under no illusions that this recipe book is going to become a best seller, but if I am going to do something, I want it to be the best I can do. And even if no one besides our friends, family, and blog readers ever buys this book it still needs to be the best I can make it. Thus the state of emotional turmoil, and I am trying to navigate the pretty complicated world of e-book publishing. A couple of times I almost asked Lee to handle this part for me, but I knew he wouldn’t do it. He’s really great about taking care of stuff when I need him to, but not when I am simply afraid of something. He held my hand through the process, but he absolutely made me do it. So let’s talk about the process, and again, I am in no way an expert and I am sure there is an easier way. I certainly hope so. And let me switch to numbered steps to help organize my thoughts here.
- Once I received the file I had three choices. Sell through Bookwright, sell through Amazon, or sell through Apple iBooks. Selling through Bookwright alone is tempting because they don’t take any portion of the sales for eBooks. The problem is they don’t have a large global distribution and this is the best choice for people who have an established audience and no intention of finding a broader one.
- Submitting to iBooks was pretty easy, but it takes a minimum of two weeks for them to approve or reject the book. I started that process, but saw something in their guidelines that said the book couldn’t have page numbers, which really confused me. Mine does have page numbers, and I submitted it anyway because at this point the only way to make a change is to re-pay the $9.99 and do another upload. That is one of the downsides of using this program for e-books, because every new version costs an additional $9.99. I wasn’t aware of that when I originally chose the program, because that is not the case for their hard copy books. Also, once it is out on iBooks you cannot make any changes, without un-listing the book and listing a new one. No versioning. Still, I submitted it and we’ll see what happens. They take 30% of your list price off the top and you get the rest, so you have to fill out banking and tax information to get started.
- Finally I started the Amazon process. Information on this was a little tough to come by, so I went with the Kindle process because it seemed the simplest. You load your file, preview it for free, and then fill out tons of information and submit for the site. The good news is it took less than 24 hours for it to hit the web site, the bad news was I had a couple of issues. First off I uploaded the Kindle-friendly version I was provided, and in the preview their was some weird formatting issue with the Kindle version. That wouldn’t work. So I went back and uploaded the mobi version, and that actually looked pretty great. Their spell check also caught two minor spelling errors (I added an extra e in saute on one page) but the only way to fix that at this point would be to go back, change the original, and pay and additional $9.99. (For the record, I had a total brain failure and added that extra “e”, not her. – Lee) Just to be clear, Ekindle accepts changes to your books, but I have this format I am stuck with and that requires a new upload each time. If I had done the book in word and then uploaded it that would have made this part much simpler.
- Next, I had to set pricing. Amazon Ekindle has two royalty plans. With one you receive 35% of the list price (that would have been around $3.05 a book) and the other you receive 70% of list price but are charged a data fee depending on the size of the file. Since my file is around 20 MB this means my $8.99 list price (my choice because I had 80 recipes and I thought 10 cents a recipe plus $1 handling charge was fair) becomes a profit of around $4.00 a book. I was hoping to make around $5 a book, but I sort of get it. They are the sales and distribution system and data does cost money, so I have to pay for that. The thing that concerned me the most though was the fact that in either case they can decide to change your list price. I have no choice in that and at 70% I only get my portion of whatever list price they change it to.
At this point I could have stopped and found another distribution method, but my head was spinning with all the new information and my emotions were churning, and really I just wanted to get it out there. So I rolled the dice that they would not change my list price and selected the 70% plan. That may have been a mistake, but I always have the choice of un-listing the book in the future if they monkey around with the price more than I can live with. We will see what happens and I promise to let you know. For some reason I was more OK with making less profit than having my price change, but I suppose that is how book publishing works. I am learning.
So there you have it. The Kindle version is up on Amazon and I really like the way the Fire tablet version looks. Unfortunately the eKindle version is all in black and white, but this copy does not have any formatting issues, which is a good thing. Click here to see the book and there is a free sample of the first 30 pages you can send to yourself if you just want to check it out. If you would like to wait for the Apple version, I will let you know when that is available from iBooks.
Either way, thanks for following along as I talked about this process. It’s been a huge part of my life the last few months and I really needed to share it. Just writing it down has helped put it into perspective and I feel calmer about the whole thing. Appreciate your listening and appreciate the support. Take care!
Update: Initial response was really great. So nice having people show an interest. I received several questions about how to view the preview though so I wanted to add a screen shot. You can see a preview online with the Look Inside feature on the left side or the download free sample on the right. I have encircled both in a red box for easier viewing.
The book is also available out on Apple now. Check out this link for the IBooks version.
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- You can purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes.